Academic Senate

Talking about General Education (GE): The first in a series of courageous conversations

Mary Ann Creadon, (Senater from Humboldt) Chair of GEAC and
Jodie Ullman (Senater from San Bernardino), Chair of
the ASCSU Academic Affairs Committee
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Academic Affairs
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Faculty Affairs
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Talking about General Education (GE) - A series of conversations
Capitol Watch
The California State University Emeriti and Retired Faculty Association (CSUERFA)
STAR act (SB 1440): Call for discipline faculty course reviewers
Resolution Summaries

The call for general education reform sweeps the nation and the CSU regularly.  That call is never random, of course, but is tied to cultural currents and pressures operating on higher education.  The pressures are familiar to us:  budgets, accountability, career-readiness, time-to-degree.  But however constrained we feel by these forces, it’s possible to be excited at the prospect of looking at GE in the CSU, and how we might integrate it into students’ lives in a way that makes clear what we believe is general education’s value to the undergraduate degree and to students’ lives and careers.   Over the course of this academic year we will present an ongoing series of articles by different authors on general education.   In this first article we begin the conversation by asking "Why does GE matter?", and how can we explain the value of GE to various audiences?

Why Does General Education Matter?

General Education Knowledge and Skills Transfer Across Domains. The knowledge and skills students gain in GE courses are “general” in nature, meant to be applicable in other realms of knowledge and practice.  Transferability is important not just for training students to use what they learn in GE courses in other courses, but it’s important for today’s careers.  More than ever, we have become a society in which people change their jobs multiple times.  Every time that happens, our former students need to be able to adapt the knowledge they learned in one field to another.  They need to have flexible thinking and problem-solving skills.  And even if they stay in one profession, they may need to do many things in the course of their careers:  read, write, orally communicate, deal with political or social issues tied to some aspect of their work, look for new ways to quasntifiably increase workers or business, and help fellow workers in personnel processes.


General Education provides students with an integrated, intentional education.   When students are able to integrate and understand the intentionality of a course, they are better able to apply the content of the GE course to their discipline, and to transfer the skills and knowledge to new domains.   This ability to understand complex topics from a variety of viewpoints also transfers directly to shifting demands in the workplace, as well as to further education.   We can see this intentionality, for example, in the Golden Four, the core general education courses of written communication, oral communication, critical thinking, and quantitative reasoning.  These courses provide students with the intellectual tools to apply thinking and communication skills to other courses, and to a variety of job settings across their lifetimes.


How do we explain the value of general education to a variety of audiences?   As faculty, have you ever noticed that when you develop a GE course in your department, you’re forced to ask yourself two (at least two) questions:  how your discipline is relevant to everyone’s lives, and why the skills and information in the course are transferable?  Your devotion to your scholarly discipline ought to help you see how important those two questions are.  They illuminate much about your discipline:  its content, its current scholarship, and its place in your university and in society.  Thus, even as an exercise in self-reflection on your discipline, GE curricular development and GE reform is a vital and inspiring activity.


Students often see GE as an obstacle to taking courses in their discipline and graduating.   But when GE is done well, nothing could be further from the truth.   General Education classes provide the framework for the development of intentionality in the curriculum.  When students understand that general education is providing foundational learning to be used throughout their lives, they better understand the value and the link between general education knowledge, and disciplinary ways of thinking and knowing.


Finally, outside stakeholders are often unclear about the purpose of GE, or base their perceptions of GE on their own undergraduate experience that may have occurred decades earlier.  One vital mission of the CSU is preparation of the job force for California.  General Education is the part of an undergraduate’s education that is central to this mission.  Disciplinary knowledge is vital, but job types and the skills required change rapidly.  Our students do get cutting edge knowledge in their discipline, but knowledge grows and changes.  General Education knowledge and abilities, especially in communication and reasoning, transfer to new domains and allow our graduates to continue excelling in their chosen jobs and also to change employment directions.  Indeed, without general education we are merely training a workforce that will quickly become-out-of-date and lack the skills to advance the economic engine of the State.


We look forward to continuing this conversation and invite your input.  In subsequent newsletters we, along with others, will discuss the role of general education in developing informed, culturally sensitive citizens.


For more information, please contact Mary Ann Creadon - Chair of the General Education Committee (Senator from Humboldt) and - Chair of the Academic Senate CSU Academic Affairs Committee (Senator from San Bernardino)